Statement From Lee Castleton, Core Participant In The Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry And Former Sub-Postmaster At The Marine Drive Sub-Post Office, A ‘Case Study’
Lee Castleton, former sub-postmaster at Marine Drive, said:
“Over two weeks (weeks beginning 19 and 26 September) the Inquiry examined the evidence on my case (one of its first ‘case studies’) – my time as the sub-postmaster at Marine Drive, the corruption of my financial accounts by the Horizon IT system and the Post Office’s investigation and action against me.
“I have watched Post Office managers and a Fujitsu technician and lawyers attempt to defend the indefensible.
“The Inquiry has read written statements and contemporaneous documents and heard oral evidence from key witnesses – including the managers and adjudicators and advisers responsible for concluding that there were significant shortfalls in my accounts, leading to my dismissal as a sub-postmaster.
“The Inquiry has also heard from the city solicitor and barrister (now a KC) who, instructed by the Post Office, relentlessly took me through the civil courts, including the High Court, where, by the end I had to represent myself and was made bankrupt.
“I never expected anyone to say they were wrong or even apologise and no one has. But the evidence has always spoken for itself.
“In terms of what the lawyers and staff did to me and my family, they should now be dealt with appropriately, as professionals. If that means formal investigations of them by their employers, their regulators or even the police, and accountability – great. If it means nothing happens, and there is no accountability – then so be it.
“As it happens, the evidence about the Marine Drive ‘case study’ has not yet concluded. And I am sure the scandal will deepen and that this will come out as the Inquiry continues. I wait to hear, with interest, what the Chair makes of this evidence, the findings he makes and the conclusions he draws and the recommendations he makes in his final report next year.
“I may say more later. For now, I want to say this about my background, experiences and impressions. Just over 20 years ago, I bought a Post Office. Just like I’d served my country, in the RAF, I wanted to serve my local community. I had no idea that I was buying into a trap that would nearly destroy me, my wife and my children.
“What I did not know then when I was speaking to the Horizon helpdesk, were the deep-seated causes of this IT disaster. I could only see the fictitious figures on the screen, but was oblivious to the greed, vanity and political stupidity that had foisted Horizon, this cobbled-together compromise, on me and thousands of others. We were the guinea pigs, who fell victim to coding errors, dressed up as imputed income, inferring fictitious deficits, that became a debt hung around all our necks.
“But, 20 years on, it’s becoming ever clearer: very serious failures have been comprehensively revealed, ethically, legally, in business and in Government, that has allowed the Post Office to act in this tyrannical way for so long.
“What I have learnt, is that there’s always the likelihood of software failures, especially in complex systems, but normally people admit that fact, are open about it, and want to make sure that it’s put right. What’s catastrophic about this terrifying story, is that the victims were branded the villains, and deliberately and cruelly made to suffer the consequences for things we hadn’t done. Extensive, systemic failures in Horizon were hushed up and those who questioned Horizon were crushed. That is my story.
“What followed took me as near death as I am ever likely to go until I’m finally laid to rest. Instead of trusting me, the sub-postmaster, the Post Office preferred complex algorithmic equations, which ought to have been rewritten before they were unleashed on me and my fellow sub-postmasters. Dogma drove deterrence: Horizon had to be defended at all costs. Along with so many others, I was made an example of. My health collapsed. I couldn’t afford my lawyers and had to act without them as a litigant in person. Although the Post Office was suing me, they persuaded the Judge that they didn’t have to prove the loss they claimed I owed them. Instead, I had to prove the impossible, that Horizon wasn’t working, all the while vital evidence showing it was riddled with bugs was withheld from me. It wasn’t a fair fight, and when I lost, knowing I had no money, the Post Office got the Judge to rule that I would have to pay £50,000 to Court to appeal. Bankruptcy followed. What does this tell us about British Justice? Something has gone dreadfully wrong.
“There is still hope, and it is only hope that has kept me going. I would like to thank Counsel to the Inquiry and the Inquiry staff for their commitment to the truth and their skilful efforts in revealing it, together with my legal team. It is now obvious that the Post Office used the law to hide the truth and to break me and my family. So, if there is one thing I would like to see come from my experience, it is that lawyers acting for public corporations, and the Government itself, should do their duty, avoiding any compromise to their integrity and professional independence.
“I’ve never been great at speaking about myself. I’m not out for vengeance, and I don’t expect an apology from anyone, but I do want closure and I would like people to tell the truth. We’re owed that, the living and the dead, and this was a deadly fiasco. I have lost many friends, who have gone too soon before their time, either because they could no longer cope or were overcome by heart attacks, strokes or cancer. The memory of my dead companions weighs heavily on me, yet even now the Post Office is quietly fighting every point, stealthily, at public expense, and it’s disrespectful to the victims, and makes a mockery of the Post Office’s apologies. But it’s never too late to do the right thing, and so I appeal to them now, and ask that the Post Office, Fujitsu and the Government should come clean, and let us grieve.”
Lee is represented in the Inquiry by Mike Schwarz, partner at HJA solicitors. He instructs barristers Edward Henry KC and Flora Page. Lee instructs, through direct access, barrister Paul Marshall, in respect of his compensation claims.